Feb 15, 2018 governor.pa.gov Governor Wolf Submits a Fairer Congressional Map to Supreme Court
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today submitted a map to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that combined features of legislative submissions but, according to an analysis by a gerrymandering expert, was statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.
“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.
“While my preference would have been for the General Assembly to send me a fair map, I believe this map sets forth a new standard of fairness.”
Governor Wolf’s map, along with the Republican leaders’ submission, were independently analyzed by mathematician and gerrymandering analyst, and Tufts University Professor Moon Duchin’s analysis found that in sharp contrast to the Legislative Respondents’ Map, the governor’s map exhibited no partisan skew in comparison to over a billion randomly generated maps. It displayed all the characteristics of what it, in fact, is: a plan drawn with the sole goal of respecting the tenets of traditional redistricting criteria. Read Professor Duchin’s full report (PDF).
The governor’s map is fair, is constitutional, and complies with the court’s order. Further, the map accounts for traditional communities of interests and seeks to avoid cracking, packing and unnecessary splitting of regions. The map has the same number of overall splits as the Republican leaders’ joint submission but reduces the number of counties split more than once and no county is split more than three times.
The administration has provided a webpage with more information, including an interactive map, communities of interest narratives for each district, and map files for download. Source
Feb 13, 2018 Post-Gazette With solar-friendly policies, state solar jobs rise 26 percent
After years of lagging behind other states, Pennsylvania’s solar industry is making substantial gains to catch up.
Jobs in the state’s solar sector increased by 26 percent to nearly 4,000 people in 2017, according to an annual census released by The Solar Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit promoting solar energy.
It was the second consecutive year of employment growth after three years of declines, a sign that solar-friendly policies at the state level — and falling equipment prices encouraging more installations — are making their mark.
The gains come as the national solar workforce declined by 4 percent, the first annual drop since the group began releasing job counts in 2010. Some of the leading solar states, including California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Texas, have experienced deep cuts as, analysts said, prices come down and utility-scale solar projects come online.
Larger installers and manufacturers were also cautious in anticipation of U.S. tariffs on solar imports. Last month, President Donald Trump imposed those tariffs, which were as high as 30 percent on solar equipment made abroad.
Pa. solar industry looking brighterAs the U.S. solar industry rapidly expanded over much of the last decade, it has largely left Pennsylvania behind. This year, the roles have reversed: Pennsylvania jobs increased by 26 percent, while U.S. jobs declined for the first time since tracking began.Growth of solar jobs: Pa. vs. U.S., 2012-17 Read more
Feb 11, 2018 wesa.form Wolf Says He’ll Send The PA Supreme Court A Fair Congressional Map, Even If He Has To Draw His Own
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is promising he’ll send a politically impartial congressional district map to the state Supreme Court by its Thursday deadline if the Republican-controlled legislature cannot draw one themselves.
“What happens next, in any case, is that I take a look at this map and have a panel of objective experts look at it,” Wolf said Monday.
According to the court order, Wolf does not have to accept the GOP map. If he rejects it, he can submit his own by the same deadline.
Since the Supreme Court dismissed the state’s congressional map three weeks ago, Wolf has sought public input on how to create fair districts. He went on a series of “listening tours” at universities across the commonwealth, stopping at Point Park University on Feb. 1.
Jan 17, 2018 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Gov. Wolf taking steps to expand who gets OT pay in Pennsylvania
About a year after a judge blocked a similar rule on the federal level, Gov. Tom Wolf plans to expand overtime pay for about 460,000 workers in Pennsylvania who currently make too much to qualify for the time-and-a-half pay for extra hours worked.
The governor, making the announcement on Wednesday at a Philadelphia grocery store, said the current salary limit to qualify for overtime — $23,600 annually, or $455 a week — means people are not being fairly compensated for working long hours on low-wage jobs.
“It’s simple. If you work overtime, then you should get paid fairly for it,” the governor said in a press release following Wednesday’s announcement. “This important step will put more money into the pockets of hardworking people and will help expand the middle class in Pennsylvania.”
Mr. Wolf’s announcement immediately drew criticism from business groups and praise from labor advocates.
The proposal, which expands overtime in phases over three years, would raise the amount that certain salaried employees can earn and still qualify for overtime pay. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the state would raise the salary limit to $31,720, or $610 per week.
The threshold will increase to $39,832 on Jan. 1, 2021, followed by $47,892 in 2022, which the Wolf administration estimates will extend overtime eligibility to up to 460,000 workers.
But the proposal’s future could hinge on the outcome of the gubernatorial election, as Gov. Wolf faces multiple Republican challengers in a re-election battle this year. The governor has unsuccessfully pressed the legislature to pass an increase in the minimum wage, which sits at $7.25 an hour, the lowest allowed by federal standards.
Boosting overtime pay for workers, meanwhile, would only need approval from the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, a five-member board that reviews all proposed state regulations. Three of the board’s five members were appointed by Democrats.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry expects to release the proposal for public comments in March, and a final version of the rule would follow.
Gov. Wolf’s plan is similar to federal overtime rules that were passed in 2016 under the Obama administration and blocked by a federal court later that year. The Trump administration in 2017 moved to roll back the requirements.
The U.S. Department of Labor had briefly allowed workers making up to $50,440 a year to qualify for overtime pay — 150 percent of regular pay — when they work more than 40 hours a week. The Obama administration argued that a cap of $23,660 a year excluded about 4.2 million people, many of them middle-class managerial positions in the retail and hospitality industries.
To comply, businesses would have been required to either track hours and pay overtime for newly qualified workers or raise salaries above $50,440 to keep them exempt.
Under the governor’s proposal unveiled Wednesday, employers would face the same decision.
Business groups criticized the rule and argued that workers would be hurt by the rule. Businesses that can’t afford the costs of overtime or the pay increases will likely force employees to return to hourly work and limit their hours, said Kevin Shivers, executive state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 14,000 employers in Pennsylvania.
The rule is “an election-year stunt that will force young managers to return to punching time cards, limiting their job responsibility and flexibility, and hampering their chances of career growth,” Mr. Shivers said.
Mr. Shivers, whose group sued the Obama administration over the federal overtime rule and won an injunction from a Texas judge in November 2016, suggested the governor could face a similar legal challenge.
“There are serious legal questions about whether or not the Wolf administration can do this through a regulatory change, and our legal team is researching that,” he said.
The rule could also draw fire from nonprofits, which opposed the Obama rule without some sort of exemption.
A 2016 survey by the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership found seven in 10 of its members would face higher labor costs under the federal rule — especially challenging because nonprofits generally can’t pass along the added expense to consumers.
Further, nonprofits that provide services to people with disabilities, which rely on Medicaid funding for revenue, argued they face service cuts if lawmakers do not also approve in increase in reimbursements.
On Wednesday, labor advocates applauded the governor’s move as a long-overdue update of overtime protections.
“Gov. Wolf has set an example for other state leaders to follow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, based in New York City.
“In the coming months, we expect governors and legislators around the country to stand up and resist the Trump administration’s rollback of overtime protections.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined the praise. “For too long, so many have worked long hours, but have not been paid for the work that they do,” Mr. Fitzgerald said in a press release. “We know that the confidence in their own earning power will result in money being spent in their local communities, which benefits us all.” Source
Jan 17, 2018 PennLive Former Gov. Tom Corbett’s fingerprints are on Pa. birth certificate change from mother, father to parent
Controversial changes to the parent reference on Pennsylvania birth certificates began under former Gov. Tom Corbett (left) when the reference was changed from “mother” to “mother/parent” and from father to “father/parent.” Gov. Tom Wolf can take credit for making that reference gender-neutral to “parent.” (File photos/PennLive.com)
A word change on Pennsylvania birth certificates may have been overlooked by parents in the joy and excitement of welcoming a baby into this world in recent months, but it sure is getting some attention now.
No longer does this legal document identify the child’s mother as “mother” or his or her father as “father.” Instead, they are now each identified as “parent.”
It’s a change made on birth certificates for babies born since August “to include all families and reflect the fact that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in Pennsylvania,” said Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott.
“Governor Wolf continues to support making government more respectful of all families and will continue to ensure state government treats all families with the dignity that they deserve.”
The health department, the state’s repository for vital records, says the law gives it the responsibility of designing the forms for vital records and spokeswoman April Hutcheson said, “it has fulfilled that obligation.”
But House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, along with 24 Republican colleagues, take a different view.
In a letter sent to Wolf on Thursday, they accuse the Wolf Administration of acting without legislative approval in making this change and therefore, is in violation of the law.
The law calls for “mother and father to be on the birth certificate, not parent and parent,” Metcalfe said. “They are doing nobody any good by pushing their social agenda through changing birth certificates for all the many babies born since August. Every baby has a mother and a father. They don’t have two parents that are not of the opposite sex.”
Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, agrees the purpose of a birth certificate is to document “key realities at the time of a baby’s birth,” namely a time and date stamp, where the birth occurred and the name of “the mother and father physically responsible for the existence of the baby — since every child comes from a male and a female. Original birth certificates should retain this record for historical and medical records purposes,” he said.
But Molly Tack-Hooper, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania argues misgendering a child’s same-sex parents on a birth certificate is a form of sex discrimination and unacceptable in her organization’s eyes.
The ACLU began talking to health department officials about changing the wording on birth certificates since shortly after the May 20, 2014, court ruling that struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. They said it was a cause of confusion for same-sex couples and demeaning as well. The organization worked with the department to develop guidance for hospitals on how to handle same-sex couples having a baby and followed it up with a FAQ.
While the ACLU didn’t threaten a lawsuit as the lawmakers suggested in their letter is what prompted the department to make the word change, she said if the department took that from its conversations with her that would be understandable.
“A parent is accurate for every parent,” Tack-Hooper said. “The fact that Representative Metcalfe would prefer everyone to be gendered does not mean that is how it should be. I am thrilled Pennsylvania is no longer misgendering parents and has brought their system into the 21st century.”
Leanne Magee of Philadelphia recalls how stressful it was when she and her same-sex partner filled out paperwork as they were about leave the hospital with their newborn son, who is now 3-and-a-half years old. They crossed out “father” and wrote in “mother” beside it but that was not accepted by the hospital staff. She ended up leaving her partner’s name listed as father.
“It’s a total misrepresentation of the parenting relationship,” Magee said. “It’s such a physical and tangible reminder of how unequal we are despite the marriage equality ruling.”
Now hearing of lawmakers’ opposition to the new wording on birth certificates “seems like such a hateful place to dig in,” Magee said. “It just seems interesting there would be legislators who prefer an inaccurate piece of legal documentation over something that’s accurate.”
While the health department told PennLive it cost $43,425 to make the change on the birth certificate form, Metcalfe, who hasn’t yet received an official response to the letter that was sent to Wolf, said the department told him it spent millions of dollars on it.
John Dawes of Equality PA, a civil rights group representing the state’s LGBTQ community, said Metcalfe is making this about cost when he really favors “actively discriminating against and taking away rights of LGBT parents.”
Metcalfe said his views about same-sex couples is not the issue here.
“I’m really a little discouraged when I hear people who advocate for the homosexual agenda would actually come out and support the governor taking an action that is not ultimately allowed under the statute,” Metcalfe said. “I think every citizen ought to be offended when an elected official does not uphold and defend the constitution they’ve sworn to and does not operate within the confines of the law. That is the foundation of the argument against this.” Source
Jan 5, 2017 The Meadville Tribune As medical marijuana gets closer, legal questions swirl
HARRISBURG — The same day Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the state’s first dispensary for medical marijuana is ready for business, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’s rescinded an order that stopped federal prosecutors from going after marijuana sales in states where it’s legal.
Sessions’ move shouldn’t have an impact on the state’s new program in the short-term because an amendment in the federal budget bars the Department of Justice from spending any money to go after state’s medical marijuana program.
But Sessions’ hostile stance has advocates worried and the governor defiant.
Wolf said he will challenge any move by the Department of Justice to interfere with the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Despite backwards moves by the Trump administration, I will continue to protect cancer patients, kids with epilepsy, veterans with PTSD and all Pennsylvanians seeking relief from legal medical marijuana,” Wolf said. “In Pennsylvania, we legalized medical marijuana in an overwhelming and bipartisan fashion, and we are months away from getting this medicine to patients that need it.”
Wolf said state officials are still working to determine the exact impact of Sessions’ Thursday announcement.
California on Monday became the sixth state — along with Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
Wolf said that the Department of Health approved Keystone Canna Remedies in Bethlehem as the state’s first dispensary. It will open once there is marijuana available. The state already has approved nine growing and processing facilities. More than 10,000 Pennsylvanians have notified the state that they would like to get medical marijuana.
The amendment barring federal prosecutors from spending tax dollars to impede states’ medical marijuana programs is included in the continuing resolution that is now funding the federal government, said Becky Dansky, a spokeswoman for the Marijuana Policy Project. It has been renewed numerous times “so here is a track record” of Congress barring the Department of Justice from targeting medical marijuana programs, she said.
Even so, in light of Sessions’ move, “what we expect is major pushback” to make sure that the amendment protecting medical marijuana programs remains in place when Congress takes up the spending bill later this month, she said.
“If that’s not there, there is cause for concern,” Dansky said. “But as long as that’s in place, they can’t spend one cent” to go after medical marijuana. Source
Dec 22, 2017 Daily Times Groups put pressure on Wolf to halt Mariner East 2 construction
HARRISBURG >> Six community members and two elected officials met face-to-face with Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday as they ratcheted up the pressure to halt construction of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 Pipeline until a new safety assessment can be performed on the controversial project.
The residents from Delaware and Chester counties asked the governor to use his executive authority under Title 35 to immediately halt pipeline construction and operations, and to assess the risk the project poses to the safety of communities along the route.
“The residents, all members of the bicounty, bipartisan coalition Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, additionally demanded that the commonwealth mitigate that risk to vulnerable populations impacted by the hazardous, highly volatile liquid export pipeline,” reads a coalition release.
State Reps. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161 of Swarthmore, and Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester, joined the residents.
The governor was presented with letters from a bipartisan group of elected officials. Urging action were U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-7 of Chadds Ford, state Sens. Andrew Dinniman, D-19, and John Rafferty, R-44, and state Reps. Becky Corbin, R-155, Duane Milne, R-167, and Comitta.
“During the meeting, residents repeatedly stressed the urgent need to address the threat to densely populated communities, and once again handed Gov. Wolf a petition containing over 6,000 signatures asking him to protect the safety of schools,” reads the release.
J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s press secretary, released the following statement Thursday afternoon: “Gov. Wolf has met with elected officials from this area and wanted to also hear from residents. He appreciated the meeting. As we have said previously, any safety assessment would have to be conducted by the PUC and Gov. Wolf would support such an assessment being done. As the PUC is the relevant authority with safety oversight over this project, if they were to perform this evaluation we would coordinate with them on how to proceed to safely and adequately assess safety concerns with this project.”
The now-under-construction Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline will carry highly volatile liquids and snake 350 miles across from Marcellus Shale deposits in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the former Sunoco Refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
Jeff Shields, Sunoco Pipeline communications manager, again repeated the company’s stance that construction is being done to the highest safety standards of the industry.
“We understand there are varying opinions on infrastructure projects such as ours, however, pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport the oil and gas products we use every day,” Shields said. “The mainline construction of ME2 is approximately 91 percent complete and our HDDs (Horizontal Directional Drilling) are approximately 62 percent complete. We look forward to completing our project in a timely manner. The safety of all pipelines is built into the strict federal regulations for the construction, operation and maintenance of transmission pipelines. Those include not just the Mariner East 2 system but the many natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines that have operated safely for decades throughout the commonwealth. It is well documented that we exceed those federal safety regulations in many areas, including pipe thickness, depth, weld testing and pipeline inspection.”
The company picked up a legal victory Thursday when the state Public Utility Commission lifted an injunction against that had halted construction in West Goshen Township.
Work had been stalled since July in a dispute between the township and company over the installation and location of a valve station.
Bibianna Dussling is a Middletown resident and co-president of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety.
“We’ve seen a rapidly growing bipartisan consensus to halt the construction and properly assess the risk of the Mariner East project,” Dussling said. “We hope the governor will take these concerns seriously and take immediate action to protect our safety.”
Caroline Hughes of East Goshen also attended the meeting.
“We expect the governor to take swift action, to use his authority to protect us, as mandated by his oath and his office,” Hughes said as leader of Goshen United for Public Safety. “Citizens are prepared to escalate our voices and demand representative action.
“We’re getting the attention of people in office that have an ability to make a change and we’re taking every opportunity to communicate the urgency of the situation.”
Comitta called on the governor to halt construction.
“I have been talking and meeting with constituents, state agency heads, township officials and Sunoco representatives regarding the Mariner East 2 project since I took office,” Comitta said. “Unfortunately, this project has experienced a record number of incidents and that is completely unacceptable.
“It’s past time to assess the safety risks so that our first responders and residents have the information they need to be safe, and it’s regrettable that this wasn’t done prior to the start of the project.”
Rebecca Britton of the Uwchlan Safety Coalition said Wolf seemed eager to learn about the group’s presentation.
She talked about Wolf’s role, and the need for him to halt construction under Title 35.
“The governor has the ability and primary responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Pennsylvania,,” Britton said.
Melissa DiBernardino said she will pull her kids form SS. Peter and Paul Elementary School if the new pipeline goes through. The planned pipeline runs less than 100 feet from several schools and a senior care center.
“While Gov. Wolf wouldn’t give an answer today, he assures us we’ll get one soon,” she said. ”I hope he sees the urgency in this. Every day he lets this continue, my children are at risk while Mariner 1 runs. Our children (and people of all ages) need a hero right now. Let’s hope he comes through within two weeks.” Source
Dec 21, 2017 philly.com Gov. Wolf calls for ban on taxpayer-funded settlements in harassment cases
HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf has asked a state agency to prohibit taxpayer money from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials following news that the House paid nearly a quarter-million dollars to settle a complaint against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone.
“I’ve put into place reforms that we make sure that we don’t do that anymore — that I don’t care who starts it — that the state doesn’t pay taxpayer money for settlements,” Wolf said Thursday morning.
The governor’s office said he “was not aware of this settlement or payment” until Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke news of the secret payout. In 2015, checks totaling $248,000 were cut to a longtime employee in Caltagirone’s district office and her attorneys, arising from claims of verbal and physical harassment over several years. Caltagirone, 75, a Democrat from Reading, Berks County, has denied the claims and said his attorneys encouraged a settlement to avoid the high costs of fighting a case in court.
The money passed through the Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program, which pays for claims where the state is liable, often covering things like damage to private vehicles. Each legislative caucus and the executive branch pay into the fund based on the number of employees they have, past complaints and other factors that might impact their risk level.
The state’s Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of General Services, processes the payments but does not get involved in negotiating or approving settlement terms. In this case, that would have been done by the House Democratic caucus, led by Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County. Dermody has declined interview requests, saying that he was prohibited from discussing cases with confidentiality agreements.
J.J. Abbott, spokesman for Wolf, said the bureau director that oversees the insurance program determined in October 2014 that the settlement could be paid through the state fund. He said that decision was made “solely by” the bureau director.
Wolf, a Democrat, took office late in January of 2015, and the checks were cut the following month.
Former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who preceded Wolf in office, said Thursday, “I have no recollection of this kind of stuff happening.”
He said, “As far as I know, that wouldn’t have come to me. If that was a settlement that [the] caucus agreed to with whoever, that would have been, as far as I know, pro forma.”
Abbott said Wolf directed DGS to immediately stop approving settlement payments from the liability fund in cases of sexual harassment and abuse by elected officials.
Wolf, and some Democratic representatives, have called for Caltagirone to resign. Caltagirone has said he plans to stay in office. Source